IRL: The day before the Indy 500

"The Boys from Brazil" is more than just a forgettable movie about cloning Hitler. It's a good strategy for picking who's going to win the 86th edition of the Indianapolis 500. Just run down the names, seven of them interspersed in the field...

"The Boys from Brazil" is more than just a forgettable movie about cloning Hitler. It's a good strategy for picking who's going to win the 86th edition of the Indianapolis 500.

Just run down the names, seven of them interspersed in the field of 33 from pole-winner Bruno Junqueira to 30th starter Airton Dare who, proving that worlds indeed collide, is pairing Texan Greg Ray for none other than A.J. Foyt. The names roll off the Portugese-speaking tongue: Boesel. Kanaan. Castroneves, de Ferran and more.

All that's missing is a Fittipaldi. And maybe a Senna.

The Sao Paulo-and-points-south lineup includes last year's 500 winner, last year's CART champ and the fastest runner on Carburetion Day. This story line is augmented by the presence of nine CART regulars in the IRL's big show; proving that the rival series' slowly paralleling alignments is defined by more than CART moving its headquarters to an Indianapolis business park.

A bigger story, perhaps, involves the Indy 500's place in the confounding alphabet soup of world motorsports, and whether its relevance is still valid. Local news stories the day before the race included merchants' lament about the small crowds at the speedway during the month of May.

On Pole Day, paying people were so sparse that seemingly, a Tomahawk cruise missile could have nailed the grandstand dead-on and harmed nobody. The army of T-shirt hawkers along 16th Street and Georgetown Road looked forlorn for most of the week.

You could blame the NASCAR monster, fed by hungrier marketing mavens, which has ensnared the whole of American consciousness in its tentacles. But the Indy 500 will still draw upwards of 350,000 people on race day.

There are a few solid reasons for this. The first is the heroic notion of hurtling an open-wheeled missile at some 230 mph between walls, softened or not, that have stood since before World War I.

The next is the realization that people have been doing this since big-dollar, big-hype motor races became as common as crushed beer cans in the grandstands. The images evoked by the 500's history are still mentioned with extravagant, almost operatic reverence, from Ralph DePalma pushing his broken car across the finish line in 1915, to Eddie Sachs rolling the errant wheel that cost him the 1962 while waving to the crowd, to A.J. Foyt grinning triumphantly as his groundbreaking fourth win in 1977.

To paraphrase Norma Desmond's unforgettable dialogue in "Sunset Boulevard," Indy is still big. It's character, and society, and the glory of racing itself, that have gotten smaller. But one day a year, this is still the place to be above all others, and the one win to boast about for a lifetime.

Be part of something big

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Series IndyCar
Drivers Greg Ray , Airton Daré , Bruno Junqueira , A.J. Foyt